Beware the price of dreams

I dreamed for a long time, before I started writing seriously, what it would be like to get a publishing contract. I imagined the moment vividly (as only writers or filmmakers can) – leaping around the house punching the air, doing the electric boogaloo, squealing with joy.

In truth, the reality was far from that. Publishing contracts don’t just materialise in your letterbox one day with a big fat cheque attached and a ‘please sign here’ tag. Publishing contracts take time to eventuate and they don’t always come with money. Mine took about six weeks and I will have to wait about ten months before I see a dime. By the time it actually materialised in my letterbox a funny thing had happened. I’d already gone through a kaleidoscope of emotions, and while I was darn excited to finally see the thing in black and white with my name in big bold letters on the front, I was pretty worn out with anticipation and another surprising emotion – fear. In the weeks following the verbal confirmation that I was the recipient of a publishing contract I found myself utterly paralysed with self-doubt.

I reckon people who get close to achieving big dreams will understand this. It’s a double edged sword, longing for something so much, because when it finally arrives you’re not really prepared for the anxiety that comes with it. It goes something like this:

Oh my God. This is real. Somebody’s expecting something of me now. Can I do this? What if I fail spectacularly? I’ve dreamed of this all my life. If I screw it up what will I do for the rest of my life? How will I get up in the morning? What will I have to aim for?  I HAVE to produce something good now, and keep producing something good, because if I don’t, this dream is dead and then what? But what if I succeed? They’ll expect more and more of me. Have I got it in me to keep producing quality stuff that people will want to read? Will I meet their expectations? What if I disappoint them? Will I become a laughing stock?

Now, to writers who haven’t achieved their dream of a publishing contract, this probably all sounds pretty narcissistic and lame – and it is. BUT – my point is I think it might be normal to feel this way when we finally grab a hold of something we’ve spent years and years longing for. The reality of a dream is rarely what we imagine it to be. Our dream job has boring tasks and a crappy manager, our soulmate doesn’t want to live our dream life with us, and our publishing contract comes with a load of expectations we just hadn’t thought about until it arrived.

Fortunately, thanks to the wisdom of some very good friends who are a few steps ahead of me on this publishing train, I know what’s coming. The first set of edits the publisher returns on your first book (that you thought was near perfect when you submitted it) are horrifying – in a B-grade horror movie kind of way. There are many surprises that look a lot nastier than they are. But you get over it, the edits get done and the thing gets published.

Then there’s the publicity of the first book – terrifying – in a waking-up-naked-in-the-middle-of-a-city-street kind of way. As a first time writer you feel exposed to a public you don’t know. These are your readers and potential readers. You desperately want them to like you, but they don’t see you as you, they see you as a ‘WRITER’ – one step above an ordinary person. But you do the talks and book signings and discover that people want to love you and if you make a mistake you’re so unknown at this point you can put it down to experience and just pretend it never happened.

And then there’s the ugly subject of the second book. I’m in a fortunate position here. I’ve been contracted to write two novellas (about half the size of an average novel) within fairly tight timelines. I will have finished them both by the time the first one is released – which relieves me of the curse of the second book syndrome. This is where many emerging writers stumble and with good reason. Where they may have taken years to write and craft their first masterpiece, number two has to be written usually within 12 months. In between they have to promote the release of the first book, blog, twitter, facebook, prepare a proposal for subsequent work, and do the edits on number two. Believe me, this is an avalanche of work – particularly for a new writer who still has to work for a living (because there ain’t no money in writing books folks – unless you’re Jodie Picoult or Bryce Courtney).

Knowing all this awaits me in the future is more than helpful. It’s a vast reality check. Only the bold and the truly committed would tread the path of a writer. It’s not easy on families, incomes or sanity. It’s a hard thing to come at, realising that achieving what I’ve always wanted may require sacrifices from my family and a lowering of living standards. (Something’s got to give and it’s usually housework. My house is terminally filthy I’m afraid.)

Dreams are a funny thing. They get us up in the morning. They sustain us, make us strive, learn, stretch, become. But don’t be deceived, they always come at a price. Nothing is truer said than ‘nothing in life is free’. Dreams are no exception. They exact a price from us – time, energy, love that could have gone elsewhere. Be warned lovers of dreamers – the price may be paid by you.

What price have you paid for other people’s dreams? What price have you asked others to pay for your dreams?

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. rachael johns
    Jul 04, 2012 @ 21:15:32

    This totally rings true for me. It’s EXACTLY how I’m feeling at the moment. Thanks for putting it out there!


  2. Dina
    Jul 04, 2012 @ 06:32:59

    Kate – another beautiful and reflective post. I love your honesty and can relate. I’m so proud of you – I know how hard you have worked for this. I wish you all the success and can’t wait to read the book.


  3. moondayreiki
    Jul 03, 2012 @ 18:36:38

    Your writing is awesome; I look forward to reading those novellas. It is so true about the waves of anxiety that come hand in hand with success. Especially so, if the dream is our own. Funny though Kate, I am going to give you just one more reason to be slightly worried: please do a spelling check on that very last question. Ouch.


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